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Drones used to hunt Somali pirates

Associated Press / February 16, 2009
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ABOARD THE USS MAHAN - American warships off the lawless Somali coast are using unmanned drones to hunt pirates threatening one of the world's most important shipping lanes.

Sailors aboard the USS Mahan said they have been using the spy flights daily to spot potential pirate mother ships.

For years, the United States has used drones to track potential terrorists among Somalia's warlords, but the Navy said more and more of the planes are now being used to fight piracy.

The drones can fly more than 3,000 feet above sea level and relay pictures detailed enough to recognize the flags flown on fishing boats that Somalis use to avoid detection.

The drones take still photos and videos that are instantly relayed to the American ships. The Americans can then send this material to other nations in the international antipiracy coalition that may have ships near the suspicious vessel.

Countries as diverse as India, France, China, and Russia have sent ships to help patrol the Gulf of Aden.

On Thursday, pictures taken by the drones, some of which also are equipped with night vision, helped apprehend nine pirates after a night flight relayed pictures of a skiff with a ladder onboard. A skiff had fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a merchant vessel in the area earlier.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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